ProjectSAM True Strike Pack

Review by Carlos Garza


From suspenseful “heartbeats” to creepy scraping and pounding rhythms, no instrument family speaks with as much authority and dynamic range as percussion. In part two of our percussion roundup, we’ll look at a pair of products from a Dutch company known as ProjectSAM.

True Strike  and True Strike 2 — sold together as True Strike Pack — cover a variety of instruments and ensemble sizes. Together they feature orchestral, world, mallet instruments and unique effects for sound designers.

Quantum Leap’s, Storm Drum 2, is a close competitor to True Strike Pack. We’ll compare their features and see if there is a clear winner. This review is part of a percussion library round-up, which also included a look at Flying Hand Percussion. See reviews on this site.

Features

True Strike includes 51 instruments and requires 17 GB of space. TS2 has 59 instruments and needs 14 GB. The 24-bit, 44.1 kHz products are delivered on DVD-ROM and are integrated with the free Kontakt player.

ProjectSAM True Strike

TS focuses on symphonic instruments with timpani, gran casa ensemble, toms, snares, cymbals, tams, thunder plate and brakes. The melodic instruments include marimba, xylophone, vibes, glockenspiel, celesta and a handful of ethnic crossover instruments. Samples were recorded with close range, stage and large hall ambience.

TS2 adds percussion effects, bowed cymbals and vibes, 7 Asian instruments, including taiko, Turkish, European and over 20 African instruments. Samples were created with close mics and either room or stage ambience. The Cimbalom and prepared piano are a unique bonus.

In Use

In January of 2010, the True Strike products were re-released, dropping integration with several previously supported players to focus on the free Kontakt player (screen shot below).  The move is described as a win-win.  While allowing ProjectSAM to focus their development and support efforts, the move reportedly improves round-robin alternation, navigation, streamlines ADSR control and provides better reporting of articulation features.  See also the review of Flying Hand Percussion on this site, which makes extensive use of scripting features in Kontakt.

The EXS-24 version that I tested in 2009 uses the same sample set as the re-released product. I tested under Logic Pro with Mac OS 10.5 and listened critically on Mackie HR824 and Tannoy PBM-8 monitors.

I tested both sets in an action film score I’m composing. I found the toms and bass drum ensembles blended perfectly with strings and brass from Vienna Symphonic Library. I could have chosen to place all the virtual instruments in the same ambience by using the TS close mic samples with Logic’s convolution reverb but the stage ambience of the TS samples was too good to pass up.

The bass drum is stunning. These massive “thwacks” are detailed and expressive and the softer sounds are sublime. Concert bass drums can sometimes be unwieldy in a dense mix due to overtones and long decay. Thankfully, the tasteful producers at ProjectSAM have crafted a modern sound that works exceptionally well in dramatic symphonic works.

True Strike 2 with Kontakt Player

TS has an excellent collection of snare drums, including a thin concert, a deeper drum and the field drum, which gave my action cues that “official” military sound. The swells in the snare ensemble are wide and detailed.

I had mixed feelings about the mallet instruments. The marimba with stage mics and full hall is spot-on but I wanted more tonal variety — soft and medium mallets, for example. The vibes in TS are useful but the damper sound, while realistic, is present enough to be noticeable when soloed. On the other hand, the bowed vibes in TS2 are wonderfully eerie and the effects sounds and prepared piano are great for suspense cues.

The U.S. company, Quantum Leap, set the standard for thundering ensemble samples in their original Storm Drum 1 product. Naturally, the 24-bit thundering ensembles in TS2 (and the new SD2) have a greater depth and clarity than the 16-bit SD1. ProjectSAM has their own take on the concept and these sounds are perfect for creature features, action game scores and dramatic pop productions.

ProjectSAM also did an excellent job of capturing the nuances in African and Turkish drums. In fact, there is enough variety to make a convincing performance – not always the case in world instrument samples (and never in keyboards). The mind-bending timpani effects will work in game, TV and film scores and contemporary concert works.

As with any sample library, there is a learning curve for playing the instrument. Once you get used to where the single hits, flams and rolls are, you can quickly create a great sounding track. A small gripe with True Strike is the mapping of some non-pitched sounds to a single MIDI note. This is fine for a drum pad but not so great for keyboard triggering. It would be nice, for example to have the four toms available an octave or two apart with left and right hand samples.

These minor negatives do not diminish the overall product value. Using these drums in a compositional setting really paid off for me. The sounds are very musical and composing with them is effortless.

So how does the True Strike Pack compare to Storm Drum 2? The recording quality is excellent in both products. I loved the stage ambience in the TS drums, especially the concert toms and bass drums. It’s a beautiful sound that shines in spare arrangements.

SD2 has more sound effects but there is no redundancy between the two and if you are serious about effects percussion and large ensembles you’ll want the TS Pack and SD2 in your arsenal. TS covers the contemporary symphony very well but SD2 adds royalty free MIDI tracks. TS Pack integrates with your favorite sample player software while SD2 uses the proprietary Play engine.

Summary

The detailed 24-bit recordings and spacious ambiance make these sounds come alive. I found that the recording clarity really helps in a dense mix and the snare roll crescendos made me feel like the drum was being played right in front of me (kind of scary actually). Some alternate sample mappings would help with certain playing styles but this is an inspiring world-class collection in any case.

This is also a versatile collection. The dystopian sounds and range of ethnic percussion make True Strike 2 a valuable resource for film and video game sound designers. Some of Hollywood’s top composers are using True Strike and it’s easy to see why. This is an awesome product.

Fast Facts

Applications:  TV, film and electronic game scoring, pop production, contemporary orchestral realization, arranging and music education.

Key Features:  24-bit symphonic, world and effects percussion samples. Compatible with major sample players for Windows and Mac OS.

US Prices approx.   USD $399 each or $799 for True Strike Pack

Contact: Project SAM + 31-30-2314500, www.ProjectSAM.com, info@projectsam.com; Available in the US from:  HouseofSamples.com West L.A. Music (www.westlamusic.com)

Product Points

Plus
• Great sound quality
• Beautiful hall ambience
• Compatible with major sample player apps

Minus
• Keyboard mappings could be expanded
• Greater mallet variety needed

The Score

True Strike Pack offers pristine audio quality in a reliably useful collection. The recent price drops make this a great buy.

(c) 2008 Carlos Garza

Quantum Leap Stormdrum 2

Review by Carlos Garza


Quantum Leap set the bar in 2004 with the original 16-bit Storm Drum product. If you wanted bombastic samples for action films, games or that “Peter Gabriel” drum sound, SD1 was it. Fast forward to 2008 and Stormdrum 2 brings a range of improvements, including 24-bit samples and 100 MIDI rhythm tracks.

This is the first in a series of percussion library reviews. Future reviews will look at ProjectSAM’s True Strike set, also aimed at TV/film and electronic game scoring. We will also look at FlyingHand Percussion, a set that uses the advanced programming features of the Native Instruments Kontakt player for subtle articulation control.

Storm Drum 2

Storm Drum 2

Features

Over 12GB of new samples, with the exception of the Metallica “Black” drum kit from Ministry of Rock. The drums were recorded at the new EASTWEST Studio 1 (formally United-Western). Quantum Leap reports that SD2 was recorded using vintage Neumann mics and Meitner A/D converters.

Included are toms, cymbals, kits, ethnic metals, small gongs, waterphone, spring drums, brake drums, a metal bridge and whale drum. There are ethnic drums, such as custom congas and bongos, Indonesian bongos, Malaysian djembe, Nepalese two-headed drum, Dholak, timbales, udu. There are rhythmically “glitched” drones, ambient low sounds, “Godzilla Hits,” “psychotic” effects, swooshes, stutters, clicks, clangs and “Rumpfs.”

SD2 expands on the ensemble samples that were the hallmark of SD1. Producer, Nick Phoenix explains, “SD1 had a cool patch called ‘Thunder Ensemble’. This was six musicians hitting large drums in unison in a warehouse. SD2 has the ‘Earthquake Ensemble’, which is eleven musicians hitting huge, large and sometimes smaller drums in unison in EASTWEST studio 1.”

SD2 uses the proprietary 64-bit Play engine rather than third party plug-in players. The Play interface includes convolution reverb, delay and disk streaming management. Wideness can be minimized for precise sound placement and the 64-bit architecture is compatible with 32-bit operating systems.

Play offers a stand-alone functionality and is compatible with VST, ASIO and DirectSound on Windows and VST, Audio Units and Core Audio on Mac OS. Copy protection requires an iLok security key.  Recommended configuration includes a DVD drive, Core 2 Duo, 2.5 GHz or faster, 2 to 4GB RAM and XP SP2, Vista or Mac OS 10.4 or later.

In Use

The installation was glitch-free on my Mac OS 10.5 desktop.  One thing to note is the iLok security key requirement, which makes the set a little less convenient for mobile rigs.

SD2 packs a wallop where it counts, big dramatic drums. I’m sure these sounds are going to show up in role-playing shooter games and heart pounding, escape-from-who-knows-what movies. Among the stand-outs are the “Beast” (a custom 42” Remo tom), Nagado, taikos and the Tong Zi drums.

There are also lighter sounds like the stick hits on the Chinese Kettle drum, the darbuka, dholak and some acoustic chirps called, “Ticki Ticki,” which would be right at home in a percolating action-adventure groove.

The MIDI performances focus on driving rhythms for action scoring with a smattering of neutral and exotic grooves. Each MIDI file comes with an associated multi-patch — up to 16 individual patches. You’ll find well-named beats like, “Malicious Hordes,” “Rampant Carnage,” and “Chasing the Devil” that show off the amazing power of these sounds.

The MIDI tracks reveal a strong collection of rock drum sounds, large dramatic drums and a unique collection of effects percussion. Imagine rock drums with a bleating Chinese noisemaker, “clanking ambient contortion,” Persian castanets and a set called, “radiostatic anomaly.” Cue the black helicopters — this is not a home organ beat box!

The taiko drums are beautiful, especially the ambient Dynasty set. The toms have a very clear sound – great for rock tracks and scoring but the close mic and stick sound makes them less suited for classical arrangements.

sd2_t

Storm Drum 2

If you use Play as a multitimbral plug-in, your DAW channel effects will apply to all the drums. No worries, Play includes its own filter, effects and panning controls for each MIDI channel. There are plenty of sound shaping options, including a reverb section with enough variety to cover any genre.

The built-in effects include a delay, a panning controller, volume and an ADSR for each channel. I found the filter useful for taming the stick sound in the toms and it’s mapped to the mod wheel so you can tweak it as you play or store your favorite setting in the patch.

Of course, you can load one Play instance for each sound and use your own channel strip plug-ins. I’m happy to report that SD2 plays well with others, particularly driving guitars, synths and symphonic brass. The thundering ensemble drums really “super sized” an action film score I’m working on.

The cool thing is that you don’t need a huge number of tracks to get a big sound. A simple arrangement with just a few tracks of SD2 sounds like you rented a Hollywood scoring stage and a small army of drummers. In fact, when I started working on this review I thought SD2 would be perfect for the Terminator 4 score. Apparently composer Danny Elfman felt the same way. Cue the DUH-dum-dum-duh-DUM riff.

The patch collections open up new ways to get a pro sound very quickly. Among the unique sound sets are Ambient Largeness and the Rumpfs. Are you on a tight schedule and need to punctuate the end of a scene? You need a Rumpf, my friend. It goes… “Whoosh…boom.” It’s an amazingly quick way to drop in a polished impact and they come in all shapes and sizes.

There are fresh glitch sounds (that’s a good thing) and blips in the ‘Fuzzbox” set; subtle and hip percussive sounds to keep a pulse going. The many sound design elements include swooshes and “stutter makers,” Asian percussion, such a Vietnamese wooden mallet instrument, Devil Chasers, bamboo sticks and for you Planet of the Apes fans, the angklung.

The congas and bongos are versatile but the sampled nature would be less apparent with more alternating samples, especially when soloed. The mapping works well for keyboard controllers with similar samples across five adjacent white keys. However, the three-octave jump between low and high bongos and four octaves between the congas gave me a workout. Some instruments have mappings for Zendrum but I was not able to test these.

Also reviewed on this site are True Strike Pack and Flying Hand Percussion — related products from other companies. If you have the budget, I would consider owning all three products.  There is less duplication between SD2 and TS Pack than I expected and Flying Hand Percussion is a one-of-a-kind product. TS Pack includes symphonic percussion instruments but SD2 is much stronger in the effects percussion and sound design elements.  Both sets include excellent large ensembles with SD2 offering more options in this category. Both have strong collections of world drums. See the other reviews for details.

Summary

SD2 reflects East West and Quantum Leap’s vast experience in developing professional sample libraries. It’s a thorough collection and the sound quality is flawless. If you need powerful drums, deep atmospherics and some no-nonsense grooves to get your production started, SD2 is a must. If history repeats itself, these fresh sounds are going to be with us for many years.

Fast Facts

Applications:  TV, film, game, rock & ethnic music arrangement; education

Key Features:  24-bit percussion samples including studio kits, ethnic drums and metals, sound design percussion, royalty free MIDI performances

US Prices: $395 list (approximately $350 on the street)

Contact: EASTWEST, www.soundsonline.com

Product Points
Plus
• High quality recordings
• Unique monster hits
• Versatile collection
• Useful rhythm patterns

Minus
• iLok security (key not included)

The Score

Stormdrum 2 is an outstanding and quite versatile collection. Well priced and an excellent value.

(c) 2008 Carlos Garza

Rarefaction – A Poke in the Ear with a Sharp Stick

Review by Carlos Garza

Originally Published in Pro Audio Review
Sound Design Tools Roundup


This review examines three sound libraries designed for postproduction and multimedia effects and three libraries that have roughly equal value for dramatic sound design and contemporary music production.

The “Poke in the Ear…” series has been around for around for more than 10 years and includes three volumes of CD-ROM audio files, an audio CD compiled from volumes 1 and 2 and an AKAI S1000 disc compiled from all three volumes. I purchased an audio CD version 10 years ago and it has remained a favorite of mine. While the company is not producing new titles, they still offer all sets mentioned above. The S1000 disc is the subject of this review.

I tested “A Poke in the Ear…” with an Akai S2000 sampler and Logic 7. In the latter case, I used the AKAI convert feature of EXS-24 to import programs and samples from the disc. Any DAW sampler engine or hardware sample player that supports the AKAI sample format should be capable of loading the set.

A Poke in the Ear with a Sharp Stick

A Poke in the Ear with a Sharp Stick

The sounds are grouped into percussive, metallic, “melodics,” environmental ambient, complex hits, machines, rhythm loops and voice. Most of the percussive programs are set up with each sample (mono or stereo) mapped to one MIDI note. The “melodics” have each sample spread across one or more octaves. The remaining programs have their samples spread across a major fifth (8 keys).

While working through the 1200 sounds can take some time, especially on a hardware sample player, the ability to play many of the sounds across the range of a keyboard makes for an efficient workflow. I found the EXS-24 graphical editor a valuable resource in the absence of key mapping documentation.

The set is not about musical instruments per se, but a few are included. The Syrian Tambourine is well recorded and features a variety of playing styles. However, the basic hits appear with only a single sample, which would lead to the “dreaded machine gun” effect if played repeatedly. Note that none of the programs use velocity layers or filtering. The other percussive sounds include large containers, bottles, jars, glass items, springs and a Slinky. There are some very useful and unusual percussion sounds here.

The “tails” programs use a succession of sounds to build a sound phrase. One of my favorites is a sample called “Fever Dream.” I used the sound in a short horror film that I scored with Silent Orchestra, called Grave Consequences. The eerie dissonant high tones build to a high pitch rattle before resolving into monstrous breathing. “Poke” has quite a few sounds like this that work well in a musical track, especially a film score.

Remember the sound a buzzing ruler on a desktop? It’s here in living stereo. Need the sound of adhesive tape being stretched and smacked? It’s here. Some of these sounds could work as Foley but the intention is to explore the sonic possibilities rather than common sounds.

There are alien boings, whooshes and ambient soundscapes. The “cyberdoom” sounds include both hits and fade-ups — mostly metallic. Some of my favorites include the sounds of heavy things being dragged and abused, something that sounds like a chain saw from hell, low pulsing and throbbing sounds, squeaky wheels, glass cutting, electronic glitches and a few demonic voices.

The rhythmic loops offer a lot of musical possibilities and some very unusual sounds combined into mechanical, world beats and out-of-this-world beats. It would be nice to have these in Garage Band or Acid format.

This product lives up to its name with some very intense sounds. The metallic shrieks could be at home at just the right scene of a horror film or as background for a mechanical underwater disaster (think Poseidon). If you are looking for unobtrusive drones and beds, you’ve come to the wrong medieval castle. While there are a few drones, and some with low frequency effects the majority of this set is in your face (or ear).

The “Pokes” sounds can be used for industrial rock, and sound design for sci-fi, horror, suspense, action adventure TV, films and games. If you are looking for things that go bump in the night, you will be hard pressed to find sounds this interesting for $29.95. Other formats are available for $49.95. Don’t let its age fool you. A Poke in the Ear still has some sharp teeth.


Carlos Garza composes music for films.  His work has been heard on Image Entertainment DVDs, Turner Classic Movies and the National Gallery of Art.  He is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review. All of the products reviewed in this article are offered by their respective manufacturers with a one-time purchase fee and no additional usage fees.

(c) 2006 Carlos Garza

Digital Juice Sound FX Library (SFL)

Review by Carlos Garza


This is a general-purpose library of general purpose, human and musical sound effects. The library is distributed on seven DVD-ROM discs, plus a single disc with 1.5 GB of previews in 128 kbps MP3 format. The library itself is provided at 24-bit/96 kHz resolution and would require 55 GB to stored on-line.

SFL includes a software application, appropriately named, “Juicer” that provides browsing, searching and sample preparation. Installation of the complete library at full resolution (55 GB) is unnecessary because of Juicer’s semi-automated batch processing. I didn’t mind loading in the appropriate DVDs when Juicer prompted me because at this point I don’t have 55 GB to spare on my hard drives.

Digital Juice SoundFX

Digital Juice SoundFX

Juicer Audio 3.02 was tested for this review on an Apple G5 Quad running OS 10.4.8. Requirements include a DVD-ROM drive, 256 MB RAM, 1.5GB for previews, Apple QuickTime version 5.0.2 or later, Mac OS10.3.9 or later, Windows 2000 or XP, DirectX8 or later.

Sound FX Library includes 11,500 clips divided into 170 categories. The set includes voice actors and musical logos in addition to Foley and sound effects. The general effects include ambience, animals, crashes, explosions, Foley, horror, household, impacts, office, sci-fi, technology, weapons and weather. The human effects include men, women and children. The topics include exclamations, business, commercial phrases, questions, police, reactions, telephone systems, states, occasions and numbers.

The noise effects include alarms, ascends, beds, beeps, bells, blasts, buttons, computer, descends, distortions, drones, evolvers, feedbacks, filters, hits, lasers, LFE, liquids, fly-bys, kicks and lasers, sci-fi elements, stabs, whooshes and more.

The Musical FX section includes short phrases of electric bass, flute, guitar, organ, percussion, sax, trombone and trumpet. Also included are musical “logos” broken out as: acoustic, comedy, corporate, electronic, jazz, new age, news, orchestral, pop, rock, sports, urban and world. There are sets of related cues organized as acoustic, corporate, jazz, orchestra, rock and urban and longer pieces, or “textures.”

The strength of this product is in the general sound effects and human recordings. These are both well recorded and versatile. It’s hard to imagine what is missing. The animal set is reasonable but not exhaustive. There are four types of dogs, for example. The dinosaur sounds — some made from real animals – are impressive. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park.

There are 328 basic Foley sounds and another 146 just for footsteps. There are rivers, waterfalls, things falling in water, office sounds, sports. By the way, the golf swing makes a nice whoosh that would work in a fighting game. Speaking of which, there are 237 weapons by brand name and bullets going into different surfaces.

The weather sounds held my interest. Thunder is sometimes called “lightning” but it sounds great. The big Hollywood-style explosions would sound at home in a film of any budget. These are BIG sounds. I mean it. There’s even an atomic blast. Where did they get that?

The human sounds are also quite useful for anyone making commercials or corporate sound design, such as telephone systems. The adult voice actors are professional sounding and there are enough words and phrases to make a variety of announcements and commercials.

The strongest musical elements are the acoustic, corporate and orchestral. The rock elements lean towards the heavy side but are very convincing. A bit more variety in the guitar tone and playing styles would help the overall usability. I really liked the orchestral transitions and the variety of moods makes this a go-to set. There are some gems in the electronic and pop logos as well. I can easily hear these used in professional and academic productions for TV and stage.

Juicer’s keyword-searchable index is handy to use but does not always respond as expected. For example, searching for “air” returns plenty of air-based sound effects but also returns “folding chairs” and “scissors cutting hair.” Searching for “boom” or “bang” does not return any of the excellent explosions in the general effects class.

The idea of using an integrated browser is a step in the right direction but it would be nice if users could add their own topic areas, ratings and bookmarks. I found the organization and preview features quite valuable when going through a library of this size. Playing samples and adding them to a batch for extraction is simple.

I noticed only small problems with the interface. The track ball on my Mighty Mouse works in reverse on the left-right volume control. Vertical scrolling works fine, as does clicking on the volume control and dragging it.

On the down side, Juicer cannot be used to browse libraries from other manufacturers and searching is apparently text based rather than semantic. Nonetheless, the effects are excellent and the sound quality is stunning. This is a well thought out set with applications in sound design for film, TV, interactive web sites, theater productions and game creation. The music cues and dialog clips are applicable to corporate, academic and commercial productions.

Digital Juice Sound FX Library is a versatile collection, sounds great and was the easiest to navigate of all the sets I auditioned.

(c) 2006 Carlos Garza

Hollywood Edge – Sonic Energy

Sound Effects Library

Review by Carlos Garza
Originally published in Pro Audio Review


Sonic Energy is a collection of beds, distortion, noise, impacts, low frequency effects (LFE) multimedia effects and production elements.  The beds occupy all of disc 1 and most of disc 2. The remainder of disc 2 is noise and distortion effects. Disc 3 contains impacts and LFE, and the remaining two discs contain multimedia effects and production elements respectively.

Hollywood Edge Sonic Energy

Hollywood Edge Sonic Energy

This set comprises five audio CDs and a bonus DVD-ROM with copies in 16-bit, 48 kHz WAV format. The DVD contains 1233 WAV files totaling almost three GB.

The 1-page CD track listings don’t do justice to the complexity of the sounds but the full descriptions, which come in text, Excel and PDF format, are very useful. I was pleased to see that the first audio disc had been entered in Gracenote’s CDDB, which made auditioning the sounds much easier in iTunes. Unfortunately, the other discs were unrecognized.

Years ago, I purchased a drone sample library that turned out rather dull. I understand that drones are not supposed to be exciting but a little variety would be nice. Luckily, the Sonic Energy beds are richly textured and varied.

This is not just another set of low hums and drones, the shimmering qualities are very modern, the stereo images are enveloping and the low end is rumbling when it wants to be. I’m planning to use some of the ominous beds in an upcoming live performance of my band’s original score for the classic vampire silent film, NOSFERATU.

There are not too many mild distortions or noises, most are intense. Watch the volume when you audition these, there are some real “ear cleaners” here. The distorted communication sounds and other vaguely familiar sounds were my favorites. They would work well in a sci-fi drama or game where something has gone wrong.

I found a few treats in the impacts and LFE sounds along with familiar sounding electronic boinks, metallic clangs and chirps. The low frequency elements are meaty and satisfying. The palette runs from synthesized analog zaps to digital splats with a few metal hits and manipulations.

Between the impacts, laser hits and low frequency rumbles you have all the sonic elements for a dynamite role-playing game. I liked the “underwater sonar ping” and metallic effects. In some cases, the best part is the way the sound evolves through the reverb tail.

The multimedia effects disc comprises chirps, beeps, clicks, bonks and tiny sweeps. These are ideal for games, as in picking up an object and scoring points. Some of the zaps are odd and comedic. The sounds are generally short and subtle but there are a few “ear cleaners” in the set. A few sounds are reminiscent of Star Trek alarms and some sound like struck glass and metal objects.

The production elements overlap the hits and beds somewhat. The logo elements are ideal for crime dramas and “most wanted” TV shows. If you are designing sounds for space alien or aquatic intruder/invader shows you might want to check out the stingers and “whooshes.”

All together, this is a fine set with a varied and high quality collection of beds, hits and LFE sounds. It is recommended for game creators and sound designers for TV and film.

(c) 2006 Carlos Garza

Vienna Symphonic Library Glass and Stones

Review by Carlos Garza

Originally published in Pro Audio Review


Provided on one DVD-ROM with 4.4 GB of samples at 16-bit/44.1 kHz. Glass and Stones includes glass harmonica, musical glasses, verrophone and lithophone. The EXS24 versions were tested with Logic 7 and HR824 monitors.

VSL Horizon Glass and Stones

VSL Horizon Glass and Stones

The glass harmonica includes portamento, sustained and half-step trill articulations played with fingers and short notes glissandos played with mallets. The articulations for musical glasses include staccato, sustained, tremolo and a half-step trill.

The verrophone is a set of glass tubes of different lengths mounted in a wooden stand. The tubes resonate at specific pitches, eliminating the need for water tuning. Verrophone samples are finger played with staccato and portato, sustained notes, tremolos and half-step trills. It’s also played with mallets in several variations including trills and glissandos.

A lithophone is a natural or man-made instrument made of stone. VSL recorded a lithophone constructed with marimba-like bars and resonators. The VSL lithophone program offers a variety of playing techniques, including soft, medium and hard mallets, fingers, fingernails, stones and a bow. There are single notes, mutes and tremolos.

The fingered verrophone has an almost vibes-like quality, especially the tremolo version. The lowest notes seemed very thick until I softened the throbbing fundamental and exposed the high frequency shimmer with an equalizer. The mallet glissandos on the verrophone have a mysterious quality that comes from both the whole tone-like scale and the sound, while the chromatic trills come across as a more metallic take on the angklung (see FX Percussion).

Most of the lithophone articulations remind me of a marimba but are different enough to be distinctive. The low end is very warm and comforting. I lengthened the attack of a soft mallet instrument and, when the lowest notes were played with a slow pitch bend, it sounded like a large sea animal. There are plenty of unexpected sounds in the lithophone effects but my favorite is the bowed low-end sound.

The forte samples of the glass harmonica have an edgy quality. The standard versions are designed to use less RAM but are suitable for general use. I found the versions with separate release triggered samples the most captivating and least “synth like.” For completely “out of this world,” try volume-fading chords or note clusters on the half-step trill sounds. Then throw in a pitch bend. Spooky stuff.

Although the focus of this review is sound design, I have to add that the Glass and Stones set has many musical possibilities. The sustained glass harmonica can serve as an organic cousin of the Theremin. Less electronic but just as haunting. Designing a sound for friendly aliens or the spirit world? You might want to check out these sounds.

(2) 2006 Carlos Garza